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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Scioto Breeze

"Just a breezy ten-minute drive from Portsmouth." The WIOI radio DJ had just ended his daily reminder of the current films playing at the local drive-in movie theater, the Scioto Breeze. with this familiar signature phrase. The Breeze featured two, usually B-rate, movies with showings every weekend year round and nightly showings during summer months. Not only did the drive in boast a snack bar with"delicious, delectable treats fit for a king," but also in-car speakers and in-car heaters for winter operations. The Scioto Breeze was pretty nondescript. It sat on the edge of my soon-to-be small town home of Lucasville, Ohio, with its screen facing west, away from busy Route 23 so that no passing cars could do more than sneak a very distorted 60 mph glance at the features. In addition to the snack bar and restroom facilities, the drive-in supplied a wooden bench beside the concession stand. The bench always amazed me because it entailed people would walk to a drive-in movie. And, the Breeze supplied a few old swings and a rusty merry-go-round in a grassy area directly in front of the large screen for kids to enjoy before the films began. One of my earliest recollections of a night at the Breeze occurred when I was about ten years old. On the Fourth of July, the drive-in was hosting a fireworks show between features, and my family eagerly attended. About half way through the fireworks, something went awry and the cars became sitting targets for large bursts of explosions and colorful hot streamers. Amid my father's vivid language and my mom's sheltering arms, I thoroughly enjoyed the raining, multi-colored cinders that some fool had mistakenly discharged into the audience. Unharmed, we left immediately after the unexpected shower. We moved to Lucasville shortly after that and the Breeze became an integral part of my maturation. My first experience with alcohol took place in the summer of my fifteenth year. About three of my friends and I were able to purchase a case of 3.2% beer illegally (I can't remember whether someone had a fake I.D. or if an upperclassman had bought the booze for us.) Of course, the perfect hideaway for criminal consumption was the good, old Scioto Breeze Drive-in. We secured a sixteen year-old driver and a cooler and sneakily made our way to the parking lot. Now, feeling guilty while trying to enjoy a pleasure is nerve-racking, but as Macho young men on a mission, we couldn't wait until dusk to open our pirate's treasure of ice-cold Stroh's. I can honestly say, as I threw back my head and took a long swig on my first bottle, I had never tasted anything so horrible in my life. I wanted to spit the beer all over the car, but, of course, I sat there nursing it and bragging about how great it was to be on a drinking adventure with my buddies. Secretly, I longed for a Coke to clear my palate. As soon as someone suggested a trip to the concession stand, I began to hatch my plan. Everyone in the car left except me, Thank God, (I begged off by saying I had eaten a gigantic dinner.) and I hurriedly poured out the remainder of the first beer. I grabbed another from the cooler, poured it out on the ground and sat there empty bottle in my lap. When my friends returned and asked me if I wanted another beer, I proudly announced I had just gotten my second bottle. "No, thanks," I dishonestly boasted. "That was so good that I just had to have another while you were gone." The Scioto Breeze loomed larger in my life when I became old enough to drive. Of course, we did the old sneaking in by hiding in the trunk routine when someone was too broke to afford admission. And, at the back of the lot was a huge cornfield patrolled by a hired, local Barney Fife watchman. It was a challenge to divert his attention and run through the field and into the lot to watch movies from the bench beside the concession stand. "So that's what the bench is for," I finally discovered. The cars my friends and I drove were also declared "cool" if they had good drive-in accessories. For obvious reasons, bucket seats were a pain and large back seats were a welcome benefit. But, my friend Bowl had the coolest jalopy. His old Rambler had the fold down front seat that, when employed, turned the interior into a full bed. Needless to say, he could have rented his car for an evening at the Breeze to any one of dozens of admirers. Most of my trips to the drive-in with girls were innocent encounters that gently explored the mysteries of night moves and the boundaries of genuine friends. Those days were free and loose, but filled with fears of making "one life-changing" mistake. True, the fears possessed strange attractions for disaster, but keeping friendships was foremost. I would call the dates innocent mutual fumblings in the dark. Of course, some girls were not permitted to date at the drive-in, but they lied and told their parents we were going to the indoor theater in Portsmouth instead. No one was cocky and trashy in appearance and behavior, at least in my car. Instead, nervous anticipation usually permeated the encounters and subsided only in re acquaintance. As far as the drive-in's "in-car heaters" were concerned, winter dates were spent huddled under blankets on top of the spark-prone machines in fear of a fate just short of spontaneous combustion. Especially if your date was less than friendly, the result was a quick ride home with the car heater blazing full blast. Incidentally, more than one of these heaters made their way from the drive-in as useless souvenirs. The same can be said for in-car speakers. One of my favorite memories of the Scioto Breeze happened my senior year of high school. The drive-in was promoting a "dollar a carload" night, mainly to encourage family attendance. I had a '65 Mustang convertible at the time. The drive-in was located less than a quarter mile from the Intermediate School parking lot. Right before dark, we loaded people (Legend now has it at 17 people- my brother says embellishment grows with age.) in, on, hanging out of, and stacked on top of each other, into my roofless auto and headed down the short distance to the Breeze. Upon our arrival, the shocked attendant immediately called the manager to report her perceived injustice, but when the manager arrived, he just shook his head in disbelief, chuckled, and threatened to feed us to Barney Fife if we caused "a lick of trouble." We swore to be extra good (with fingers crossed, of course). Right before we paid our $1.00, Rick, one of my close friends, had the nerve to ask the attendant if she would let us into the drive-in on Rick's yearly pass. That little scheme was met with complete dissatisfaction. So, we decided not to push our luck, paid, entered, and generally frolicked all evening. As passion became more of an interest and people succumbed to "steady" dating, the Scioto Breeze turned into a little more serious destination. I can honestly say I don't remember watching any movie playing the theater from beginning to end. Although Russ Meyer's steamy Vixen did make an extended run there and drew the wrath of most decent folks in town with its X-rating. I think most of my buddies and I watched pieces of that movie several times, amid drunk hoots of manly approval, from a friend's house that conveniently faced the screen: no sound, just picture. Today, the film would probably be considered an instructional video. As girlfriends became fiancees and buddies got drafted or moved away to jobs, the Scioto Breeze Drive-in Theater lost much of its appeal. We left the drive-in safely in the hands of the underclassmen and swallowed our experiences. To call the place an outdoor movie theater would be a grave injustice. It, instead, remains a shrine to lost youth mixed with innocence and playful mayhem. Most in Lucasville can look upon its gravel foundation as a meaningful rite of passage. I bet you can too if you were a resident of the area. Feel free to share your reflections. e-mail
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